“You’re holding it upside down.”
“I am no…” Bree halted, realizing he was right. She glared at him and turned the map around, so it was rightside up- earning a snicker from Ryan. She shook the map out like she shook off her bruised ego and scanned the mass of colored lines and tiny names for the one they were looking for.
“How is anyone supposed to read these, the words are too small,” She squinted at the old map, holding it close to her face, “What am I looking for again?”
“The Inn, Blackwater Inn, the town has the same name,” Ryan emphasized whilst keeping his eyes on the foggy road ahead. The closer they got to Blackwater the foggier the Oregon forests seemed to get. They had lost cell service about a half hour ago and though Ryan claimed he knew how to get there by memory, the fact that it had been at least ten years since he'd been there had sent Bree digging for an old map from the glove compartment.
Bree blinked at the map in frustration and then looked out the window for a sign or anything that might help her find clues as to where they were. The billowing fog outside was so thick it obscured her vision a few feet in front of the car, even if there were any road signs she wouldn't have been able to see them.
“It’s north of Pendleton, right?” her gaze was back on the map as she drew it upwards from where Pendleton was printed in black ink.
Ryan shrugged, “I think so? Honestly Bree I’m not sure.”
“How did you grow up here and you can’t remember what towns it’s by?” She asked accusingly, her anxiety about being lost in Oregon was creeping into her words.
“It was ten years ago… I was barely 17,” He defended. Bree huffed and turned towards the window. Ryan reached for her hand and enveloped it with his, rubbing circles with his thumb, “Everything’s going to be fine, ok? I know where I’m going. You trust me right?”
She sighed and squeezed his hand back, “Yeah.”
“Good,” He looked over at her and smiled, “Cause I’m excited for this vacation, and I hope you are too.”
“I am. Remind me again why you guys moved away?” Bree gave up on the map and tossed it back into the glove compartment.
"My mom had wanted to get out for a while, it was too secluded for her, too in the middle of nowhere, that’s why I like it. It’s quiet, you can hear yourself think,” He trailed off, eyes fixed on something in the distance as if the quiet was something he could see. He snapped out of it and pressed on, “One day though, a girl a few years younger than me, went missing. Her name was Megan, they found her in a cave a few days later. Someone had… kidnapped her and was keeping her there… by the time they got her to a hospital she'd passed away. That’s what triggered it. Mom was so worried something would happen and we’d be too far away from a hospital. So we moved.”
Bree’s stomach churned at the story, “That’s awful, did you know her?”
He shook his head, “Not really, I’d seen her a few times, pretty blonde girl… I remember thinking she was cute. That was all though.”
“Did they ever find who did it?”
“Nope, although everyone suspected her brother, though they could never pin it on him.”
Bree pressed her lips together, “...Great, so you’re taking me to the hometown of a murderer.”
Ryan laughed and pressed a kiss to the hand he still held, “Relax, the brother moved away ages ago. It’s just going to be you, me and the Oregon hiking trails.”
It was another hour before Ryan pulled into the hotel parking lot. They checked in and hauled their luggage to the room they would be staying in. It was well past one in the morning before they were finally settled. Bree had fallen asleep the moment her head hit the pillow, but it took Ryan a bit longer. He coiled Bree’s hair around his finger while his mind ran wild about his plans for the next day. He couldn’t wait to see the look of surprise on Bree’s face for what he had planned, he just hoped everything would go smoothly. Ryan pressed a kiss to her cheek before finally closing his eyes and submitting to the darkness of sleep.
They both changed into hiking clothes the following morning and climbed back into the car to grab some breakfast before they headed out into nature. The breakfast diner was exactly what you’d expect of a small town. Leather booths, walls covered in cheesy framed quotes and random wall decorations, paper menus and only one waitress, who looked so much a part of the place she’d probably worked there all her life. Ryan opened the door for Bree and the bell chimed as they strolled in.
Ryan put a hand on Bree’s shoulder and used the other one to tug lightly on the braid running down her back, pulling off the scrunchie that was keeping it together.
“Hey,” Bree whipped around, running a hand down her braid to find it unraveling at the ends. She frowned at the scrunchie in his hand.
“You know I like your hair better down,” He grinned cheekily and slipped the scrunchie around his wrist. Bree scoffed but unraveled her braid and shook out her blonde waves.
“Beautiful,” Ryan pulled her in close and kissed her forehead as they looked around waiting to be seated.
“Welcome in!” The waitress called cheerfully from the side room as they walked in, “Feel free to grab a seat, be with you in a moment!”
“I’m going to the restroom; can you grab us a seat?” Ryan asked before slipping down a nearby hall.
“Sure,” Bree answered, though he was long gone. She snagged a booth close by and leaned back onto the retro cushions, she couldn’t imagine growing up in such a small town, it felt so lonely. The waitress approached the table with a tray of drinks and a smile. Her uniform was neat and pressed, the opposite of her wild curly hair.
“Hey hon, what’s your name?” She asked, setting the two waters down on the table and tucking the tray under her arm.
Bree smiled at her, “Bree.”
“That’s pretty,” She looked back in the direction Ryan went and a coy grin slid over her face, “Was that Ryan Jeffs I saw you walk in with?”
“Uh, yeah it was. He just went to the bathroom.”
The waitresses’ eyes lit up, “Oh I thought so, nice of him to come back in town this time of year.”
Bree cocked her head, “What do you mean?”
“What with the seven year anniversary of that girl's death and all, are you guys going to the memorial?”
Bree blinked, “Oh, uh I didn’t even know it was the anniversary.”
“Oh,” the waitress covered her surprise with a charming smile, “Well it’s tomorrow, in case Ryan didn’t know, I’m sure Wendy would love to see him.”
“Oh sorry, Megan’s mom,” she pulled out a pen and notebook, “Anyways, what can I get you guys?”
Bree stared at the waitress blankly, unable to hide her confusion.
“We will take your world-famous waffles Ruth,” Ryan slid back into the booth and added to Bree, “They’re the best thing on the menu. Nice to see you by the way.” He threw a wink to Ruth who beamed.
“Coming right up,” she batted flirty eyes and slipped her unused pen into her pocket. Ryan watched her until she disappeared into the kitchen and turned back to Bree with a light in his eyes.
“So weird to see her… it’s just weird to be back,” he shook his head and leaned forward, pausing when he noticed Bree’s furrowed brow, “What’s wrong?”
Bree leaned forward and stared after Ruth, “How do you know her?”
“She was a few years older than me in high school, we ran in the same circle a few times,” Ryan gave her a puzzled look.
“...and how do you know her again?”
“Ruth? I just said…”
“No… not Ruth,” Bree cut him off, “Megan.”
Ryan raised an eyebrow, “Megan? Remember I told you yesterday… I didn’t know her, not really, just seen her around a few times.”
“Yeah I remember… the waitress, Ruth, she thought you were in town to go to Megan’s memorial tomorrow, she said Megan’s mom would love to see you. Why would she say that if you barely knew her?” Bree asked.
Ryan shrugged and sipped his water, “I don’t know Bree, it’s a small town… Ruth probably just assumed we were friends. I forgot it was the memorial this week.”
Bree relaxed her shoulders, “That’s a weird assumption for her to make.”
Ryan nodded his agreement and Bree let the subject drop, inquiring instead about what memories Ryan had in this diner. He launched into countless stories of late nights after football games he would spend holed up in this diner until the manager kicked him out. His eyes glazed over with the memories as if he could see his former self and his friends laughing in a nearby booth. Bree smiled while he spoke, he always got so passionate when he told stories, he claimed it’s how he kept the past alive.
They ate their waffles which were every bit as good as Ryan had advertised, and left the diner, heading up to a specific hike that Ryan had in mind. It took over an hour to get up the mountain and when the terrain turned rocky Ryan pulled over, saying they would need to continue on foot to the trailhead. They were about thirty minutes in when Bree started to wonder if Ryan knew where he was going.
“Ry, shouldn't we have brought a map? What if we get lost up here?”
“No, we’re fine, I know where we are, don’t worry so much,” He flashed a reassuring smile over his shoulder before marching on ahead. They trudged up a trail for about five minutes before Ryan backtracked and took a different path, leading them further into the dense trees. The Oregon fog floated near the forest floor, obscuring little rocks and trees that forced Bree to pick up her feet more than she normally would have.
“So, your mom… does she ever come back here?” Bree asked.
“Uh… not really, she’s too creeped out,” He replied, his voice muffled from facing away from her.
“Because of Megan?”
He didn’t answer for so long Bree started to wonder if he’d heard her until he said, “Yeah, because of Megan.”
“Why would it bother her so much though? I mean I’d be creeped out too, but it’s not like you guys knew her.”
Ryan let out a weird laugh, “She’s uh… she… my mom’s a little…different.”
“Yeah… after Megan she uh, she lost it,” Ryan’s voice cracked, and Bree’s eyes widened at the sudden emotion.
“Hey,” she reached for his arm to stop him, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…”
“No, it’s ok,” He said, shaking the emotion off, “She started seeing things that weren’t there, jumping to conclusions, everything scared her.”
“...that’s what drove her away from here?”
He grimaced, “Away from me… there’s a reason I never introduced you two, she doesn’t want anything to do with me.” He rubbed both of his temples with one hand and Bree put a hand on his shoulder.
“Away from you? What drove her away from you?”
He looked up at her, “She thought that I… she thought that I killed Megan.” Bree dropped her hand from his shoulder, frozen by the heaviness of what he had just said, her voice was barely a whisper when it came out.
“Why would she think that?”
Ryan pursed his lips and turned around, continuing the trek to wherever they were going.
“She was losing it Bree, like I said, seeing things that weren’t there,” he pulled a branch out of the way and turned back to hold it for Bree and was surprised to find her still standing where they had stopped, “You comin?” She stared at him, instantly aware of how far away they were from any form of civilization. When Bree made no move to walk towards him Ryan let the branch drop, taking a step back towards her.
“Bree..” He cleared his throat, “I didn’t mean to freak you out.”
He started towards her, but she took a step back and he froze, raising his eyebrows in shock, “Bree, what’s…”
“There’s something that’s been bothering me,” She stammered, heart thundering so loud she worried he could hear it, “The waitress, the waitress said it was the seventh anniversary of Megan’s death.”
“Seventh anniversary… she died seven years ago… that’s three years after you said you moved away ,” her lip trembled despite the warm day. She waited with bated breath, waited for his reaction, for the hurt, taken aback twisting of his features, in shock at what she was insinuating. She read him, every inch of him, wanting more than anything to believe she was crazy. Then she saw it. A flicker, in his eyes. Not of flicker of shock, or of fear, but of guilt. Guilt of being caught in his lie.
A cool confidence replaced the look a second later and he attempted a casual laugh, “Bree, that’s just, I must have just told you the wrong date… it’s absolutely.” He took another step closer, and Bree took another one away. He hesitated on his next move, because while she had been reading him, he had also been reading her, weighing his odds. If he could talk his way out of this, but the look on her face left no room for discussion. She had seen the flicker; it had given him away, and the damage was irreversible. She looked like a deer, ready to bolt the second he got too close. He sighed and righted himself, letting the hurt boyfriend look drop entirely. Bree recoiled at the change in his demeanor.
“Why… Do you have to ask so - many - questions,” he drawled out his words and fixed her with a hard stare, tightening his jaw. Bree was scrambling to think of a way out of this, she didn’t know what was going on, her brain couldn’t wrap around it, but everything inside of her was telling her to flee. Ryan had the car keys, her only option was to run. So, she did.
She took off sideways, off the trail and into the dense trees, charging blindly over the rocks and branches.
“Bree, don’t run! We can talk about this!” Ryan ran after her, twigs crunching under him. Bree’s legs propelled her forward, lifting as much as they could with each step to avoid falling. Ryan wasn’t being as careful and in his desperation to catch her he tripped on a rock and went down hard. Bree let out a strangled, fearful cry as he cursed loudly from right behind her. She could feel the ripple in the air of how close his hand had been to grabbing her, if he hadn’t fallen right then he would have caught her.
“Bree! I don’t want to play hide and seek!” Ryan growled as he climbed to his feet, his words echoing through the woods to where Bree was sprinting away. She kept going, not pausing to look behind her, she let her fear carry her. It led her as if it was an outside force, showing her the way. She ran and ran until she didn’t hear him behind her anymore, but there was nothing that could save her, only more trees. Bree clutched at her chest as she turned in circles, trapped by the fir trees around her. Hide, she couldn’t run, but she could hide. She started running again, now with a new purpose. She searched for a place to hide, somewhere she could hole up until he lost track of her. Bree launched herself through the trees, every sense was alert and aware, trying to keep herself from falling and listen for any sign that Ryan had found her, her body felt like it was on red alert. She didn’t know how long she’d been going before she saw it… a cave.
Bree sobbed with relief and ran to the rocky entrance. It was small enough that Ryan might not see it, but large enough she had no problem slipping inside, easing herself over the rocks. The cave’s narrow entrance grew wide the farther she climbed in until she could stand up easily. Her ragged breathing filled the cave as she walked deeper into the darkness. Her breathing and… someone else's. Bree’s eyes widened as a voice called out.
“Hello?” a girl cried softly in the darkness.
“Hello,” Bree stiffened, “Who’s there?” Bree eased closer to where the voice came from until the outline of a girl came in view. She was crouched against the rocks, hands bound behind her back on a chain that Bree’s eyes followed into the darkness. The girl gasped when she saw Bree and inched away as though trying to melt into the rock wall behind her.
Bree knelt next to her, her fear evaporating at this girl's apparent helplessness. Even with the darkness of the cave it was evident this girl was covered head to toe in dirt, her long blonde hair matted across her face, her face gaunt from hunger and her skin a pale grey color. Bree tried not to cringe at the sickly state of her.
“Who are you?” Bree asked softly.
The girl peered at her from behind her hair, big brown eyes wide as she rasped, “Megan. My name’s Megan.”